Show us your tech – bragging allowed!

Everyone loves to show off their technology now and again.  You may not like to be the centre of attention, but it is likely that you are when you get a new ‘toy’ and want to show it off.

So in what could all too easily become an advertisement for who has the biggest wallet, I thought it would be good to share the different technologies we all own and why.

The idea is to identify and explain what technology you have invested in and used for certain scenarios.  Whether you spent £5,000 on an AV system or £5 on a remote control alarm, every bit of technology serves a purpose in some way shape or from and all technology works in different ways for different people. I love tech, but do not have the budget to go all out on everything!

These lists could get very long and I welcome all additions, but for simplicity you may want to share just a selection of the best.

In the comments below, leave a description of the technology you own, why you own what you do and what purpose it serves etc, I am genuinely interested.

I will start the ball rolling.

USB Sockets

You can read all about these here, but I love them.  I have 3 in my home so far and everyone sees the benefits of these! Only £20.

After

After Installation

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

If you follow the blog you will already know my reasons for owning this.  In short it is down to size.  Devices with screen over 4.7″ whilst lovely, I am unable to comfortably use in one hand, which is important for me.  I want the confidence I can hold and use the phone and am not likely to drop it or have it slip out my hand very often.  I have felt like this for some time and its been reconfirmed by by personal life.

I like to spend as much time as possible outdoors, in the country/forest, most notably because I have a Labrador who likes going on walks.  I use it for navigation, but want to be able to easily hold and handle the phone in the rain, when climbing over a stile.

A more expensive compact phone, it is a powerhouse.  It is not without its faults, but it is a great phone.

Just look at this image I captured on it, I was quite pleased.

Wasp_Z1_Compact

Dell Studio Desktop PC with 2 x 22″ HD ASUS Monitors

Powered by Windows 7 Ultimate, I have recently upped the RAM to 8GB and replaced the graphics card with the addition of 2 x 22″ ASUS HD monitors for a dual screen setup.

I loved Windows XP, grown to accept Windows 7 and just can not get to grips with 8.

Whilst I do a lot on my phone, you still can’t beat a desktop with big screens, keyboard and mouse for graphic editing and some tasks such as wordy emails and documents and some online shopping, it is just easier.

After a little spruce up, it runs like a charm now and I do not plan to change it until it dies or Windows 7 stops getting support. Considering I have had this since 2009, it isn’t doing too bad.

DSC_4338

Sonos System

Perhaps ‘the best’ investment I have ever made.  These are not cheap for the initial setup, but the sound is immense.  It is also the one that I had to convince my girlfriend of least! When she heard it she knew why.

We have one in our lounge, one in my office and will soon be adding others to the kitchen and bedroom when funds allow.

The Sonos system would be considered by many as an unnecessary luxury, but this is the type of product you will use for 10+ years. It is built to last.

You can play music in complete harmony with no lag at all!

All audio goes through this system now without fail.  On a few occasions when the WiFi has failed and we have to resort to the standard speakers on the TV it is like comparing chalk and cheese.

SONOS-PLAY3-and-BRIDGE.jpg

Gigler 1Gbps fibre internet connection

Yes, a 1Gbps fibre internet connection straight to my door.  You thought your 150Mbps connection was fast, this is lightening quick!

Luckily Bournemouth was one of the first locations to get true fibre to the home. You can read more about it at www.gigler.co.uk

1Gbps sounds amazing and on the most part it is, but like anything you do not always get the top speed of  1 gigabits all the time. Plug right into the box and you can easily achieve 500Mbps+ all the time.

The practicality of modern living means WiFi is the norm and that kills the speed too, but still it is considerably faster!  The hours I have saved uploading video to YouTube etc from home rather than work is ridiculous.

Gigler

Nest Thermostat

Nest_Thermostat The most recent tech spend, I never really liked the thermostat in my home. Always complicated and never seemed to come on quite when you set it.  Considered changing for some time then Nest came to the UK.  It got installed this Spring, not the ideal time, but this thing is fantastic.

I and the other half love it too.  Being able to switch it on easily whenever we want, knowing we are saving energy is always a bonus.  There are lots of great features, but the learning element of it works well and it is easy to manage online or through the app.

I will get a real test of it over the winter, but the style and accuracy of this system as well as the online nature is superb and well worth checking out.  It will pay for itself within a couple of years I am sure of it.

OregonOregon Scientific RMR391 Alarm Clock

What is so special about an alarm clock. It shows the time and wakes me up when I ask it.  Very true it does.  This alarm clock though it controlled by radio waves which means it stays perfectly in sync with GMT here in the UK.  It also has an outdoor sensor, so when in bed I can see the temperature outside.  Another nice addition is that of a projector, that shines the time onto the ceiling of the bedroom at night – handy if you stir, not so great on sleepless nights!

ASUS TF701T Transformer Pad

I have mentioned my partner a couple of times and what was my tablet seems to have become hers!  I am sure you have found the same with your partners or kids.  I think these is what confirms a piece of technology is good, if others adopt it.

She loves it.  Whilst used primarily without the keyboard for her, I love the keyboard for writing those longer documents or emails when I am away or want something a bit more versatile on the move.

Paired up with a Cooler Master Ren (designed for iPads) it makes it even more useful and is great in the kitchen if using it for recipes etc.

ASUS_Transformer_Pad-(11)

SSynologyynology DS213 Diskstation

Packed with 8GB of storage, this is where all my files sit and allow me global access to my documents, whilst keeping them off my PC to ensure it performs at optimum levels.

Sat quietly in the corner of my home, it purrs away without fuss.

I have not had it for all that long and am still learning what it can really do, but it is so powerful.  Features such as using it as a recording station/control panel for security cameras is a good thing too.  That works well.

So that is me, what about you….. share in the comments below.

What is Android Wear?

Smartwatches are now here with Google’s new wearable OS. So what makes these so much better than last year?

Google caused some ripples in the industry earlier in 2014 when it announced Android Wear, a variant of the popular mobile operating system with a focus solely on wearable products. Until now, the software powering smartwatches and other wearables has been largely proprietary, that is closed off and owned by the manufacturer.

android-wear-logo

With Android Wear, Google are trying to do what they originally did for smartphones: create a reliable and powerful system so manufacturers can focus on making decent hardware and expanding on the same, high quality base experience.

What are the benefits over other smartwatch systems?

Android Wear Music

Google’s own apps, such as Music, currently work best between mobile and wearable devices, although support is rapidly growing for 3rd parties.

New versions of the main Android OS have support for Android Wear included from the get go. With Google recently reigning in how much customisation of their OS they will allow manufacturers on Android phones, it should be the case that new Android Wear watches and wearables will work seamlessly with all Android phones running 4.3 Jelly Bean and above.

This helps Google avoid any ‘fragmentation’ issues with different versions of the system being incompatible. It also makes the Android landscape simpler for consumers to understand too. You don’t have to worry about LG, Motorola or Samsung’s watches working with any new Android phone. You can pick a new phone and new smartwatch and as long as they both have Android stamped somewhere on the box, you can have them talking to each other in no time.

One other big plus for manufacturers is the lack of development time. With Google doing the lion’s share of the work concerning how the software on the watch talks to the phone, the manufacturer has more time to spend designing the hardware and any extra features they wish to add on top. Motorola’s Moto 360, with its impressive circular screen and now hinted to be available from late September, may not have been possible to produce at an affordable price had they needed to develop an operating system from scratch.

The other killer critique that slowed smartwatch adoption in the last generation was the lack of apps and support. Getting developers to come up with ideas and code apps for an unknown system is traditionally very difficult. Sony found this with their versatile but ultimately under-supported Smartwatch 2 system.

Thankfully the Android Wear framework has been integrated into the normal workflow for Android developers, so it should be much easier for teams and individuals to either adapt existing apps, or write completely new ones.

OK Google!

Android_Wear_CommuteSince Siri’s appearance on the iPhone, the idea of a personal assistant intertwined with your mobile devices has seen real popularity. Google’s version of this concept is Google Now, a less personal yet arguably far more personalised and versatile system.

Google Now builds on the software giant’s Search capabilities and integrates directly with your daily life. The whole experience can be tailored to deliver information based on your movements, local environment, inputted data such as sports teams, regular journeys, calendar appointments and lots more. It does mean tying yourself closely to the Google mobile ecosystem, however the results can be very powerful.

Since the Motorola Moto X was always listening, the phrase “OK Google” has been used for voice recognition in Android. By saying this simple phrase at your Android Wear smartwatch, it will sit and wait for your next command. Keep quiet and the system will provide you with some prompts such as “send a message to…” or “call xxx“.

In these instances you can speak directly to the watch and have a message sent. As you might by now expect, requests for directions can even turn your watch into a driving (or walking or cycling) aid.

Using Google’s research into natural language processing, the system is also intelligent enough to understand direct questions and run off to provide you with search results as answers. You can then read the blurb on your screen or press to open the relevant page on your connected device.

Whilst it’s actually your connected smartphone doing most of the work in these instances, the Android Wear screen interface, ease of which you can interact and the speed of the resulting display makes simple searches, replying quickly to brief messages and call handling a breeze.

A colourful world

Android Wear comes at a time when Google are trying do align their products’ design language across all devices and screen sizes. The concept of Material Design is one that will permeate their offerings going forward. The flattened, simplistic look is just one half of the story. The other being Google employing stringent, overlapping internal rules on how their finished products should ‘feel’ to the user as they interact, based on both device size and product category.

The result in Android Wear is a pleasantly colourful and ‘friendly’ experience and interface. Notifications and results are displayed clearly and whilst navigation prompts are few and far between, the gesture based utilities are intuitive enough to learn quickly.

The animations and themes are also indicative of a product that Google clearly want to outshine the competition with. Also customers already utilising Google Now will have a sense of immediate familiarity with the style.

Android_Wear_Faces

It’s still early days – there’s plenty more to come

At the time of writing Android Wear has only been available for 2 months on 2 devices. What we see now is very much an initial preview of what Android Wear is capable of, although the early signs are very promising. Even Jon who had never ‘bought into’ smartwatches before was raving about it after a few weeks.

Android_Wear_Voice_SearchGoogle are well known for expanding on and building in new features regularly, whilst remaining self-critical and responsive to user review. If they stay true to previous form then we should see regular additions to the system.

Right now Android Wear helps new smartwatches do exactly what their predecessors did – act as an intuitive notification centre for your phone. You can also tailor the experience through the Android Wear manager app on your phone so certain types of notification don’t ping their way or buzz on your wrist. So not every 2 for 1 offer from Dominos Pizza makes your hand shake.

Google’s most recent updates to key products such as Gmail include integration with Google Now. This can learn which notifications are important from your usage and has the ability to prioritise them.

With the new G Watch and Gear Live we see a completely ‘vanilla’ Android Wear. Google have already said that manufacturers will not be able to customise the design of Wear much beyond backgrounds and watch faces, however in the future we may see custom apps and features layered on top.

Apps for Wear

As big names such as IFTTT have already got on the bandwagon, extensions from other popular outlets are sure to start appearing. You might not be able to browse Facebook on Wear yet, although Messenger is rumoured to be making an appearance soon has recently been updated with Wear support. Services such as Spotify also have basic initial offerings for launching the app on your phone, although will hopefully be doing more to make a fully integrated music remote on your wrist.

We may also see hardware manufacturers start to play the unique features game, with the in-house apps on their phones extended to Android Wear, to try and tie consumers into their ecosystems. Whilst this won’t break the wide compatibility model Google are attempting to achieve, it does open the possibility of first party feature lock-out, that decent third party developers could then exploit.

Android Wear’s success could well hinge on getting big names to develop useful apps for the system that sit well with Google’s notification hub. Could Snapchat’s popularity and development to a gesture controlled platform somehow extend to the wrist? Will the undeniably useful Any.do develop an extension to push my reminders to a glanceable position on my wrist? Could I one day control the Netflix on my TV screen, that is being Chromecasted from my phone, with the watch on my wrist?

There’s a lot of potential in Android Wear that might not be realised by early adopters. The good news is the basics have been done very well, laying the foundations for future success.

Motorola are doing everything right

The iconic brand fell out of favour, but has risen as a bastion of the budget market and the Google way

There was a time when a Motorola phone was something of a status symbol among the fashion conscious. In the long-ago times before the modern age of smartphones, feature phones could call, text and take pictures. They also played Snake!

Over the years features were added; having a phone that could download and rock a polyphonic version of Bomfunk MC’s Freestyler was the epitome of cool at one point when I was at school.

After that you could store your own .mp3s on memory cards and eventually cameras appeared that didn’t make everyone look like a pixelated Donkey Kong. If you were lucky you might even have had a rudimentary data services connection dependent on the plan you paid for with your network.

In this world there was little to differentiate phones by raw specifications, so it was mostly down to design and advertising that got one in your hands after leaving the store.

This was where Motorola excelled against the competition; Sony Ericsson were generally feature-filled and cool but expensive, Nokia were reliable but boring and everyone else (Siemens, Panasonic, Samsung) just seemed to be ticking boxes.

Hello Moto

Motorola V525 Vodafone

Portable, stylish, the full-colour V525 got me through several school years

Motorola were fun. They were accessible and enjoyable. They arguably dominated both the clamshell and flip-phone eras and once the impossibly thin Razr was unleashed on the world, they became sexy.

Whether or not they financially won out against Nokia’s onslaught of releases could be debated from month to month sales and is really a moot point. The Finnish company was constantly trying to recreate the widespread appeal of the early 32/3310, whereas Motorola just kept making cool happen.

The ‘Hello Moto’ slogan was instantly recognisable and even briefly became part of the everyday lexicon in the same way as ‘Wassup!‘ or other advertising driven sound bites.

Motorola did everything required to put a phone in the hands of every demographic from teenagers to grandparents.

This isn’t surprising when you remember that Motorola were a company at the dawn of mobile infrastructure. Much of Motorola’s own technology underpinned the very existence of early mobile networks. In short they always had the hardware and ability to produce the most functional devices. They were then able to invest time in producing the best consumer products.

Late to the smart party

Motorola FLIPOUT

Who remembers the FLIPOUT? The Japanese market loved it but not many others.

The second half of the 00’s and the rise of the modern smartphone saw a considerable drop in Motorola’s consumer fortunes. Whilst their other departments continued to operate successfully, the mobile handset division failed to innovate and keep up with the consumer trends.

When Apple launched the iPhone in 2007 and kickstarted a surge in consumer popularity for a previously niche category, Motorola were as late in responding as everyone else.

By the time Google released a ready made operating system to challenge iOS and Motorola found their feet again in 2009, there were new and improved players in the game. HTC had already placed themselves as manufacturers of high quality devices and Samsung were laying the groundwork for a war with Apple that they continue to fight.

The DROID range saw some commercial success in the USA although deals in place meant sales were restricted through particular carriers. Rebranded as the Milestone this handset didn’t fare well in other markets such as the UK.

Throughout the following few years Motorola released decent handsets that were continuously middle-of-the-road yet never stole any limelight from the ‘flagship’ devices. The Flipout, Atrix and Defy are all examples of well received smartphones with interesting hooks that unfortunately sold poorly.

A Google Company

motorola-logoEventually Motorola split in early 2011, continuing as the enterprise focussed Motorola Solutions and spinning off the mobile division into the autonomous Motorola Mobility. The new Mobility was responsible for some of the handsets mentioned earlier and later that year Google picked up the company for a whopping $12.5 billion.

The jury’s out on whether Google got their money’s worth but what can’t be denied is they turned the floundering phone manufacturer fortunes around.

The first Google influenced device out of the door was the Moto X which was received to critical acclaim across the board. Issues with supply in the USA aside, the Moto X was a success, enough for Motorola to briefly make the handset available in Europe to supplement their wider range.

Made to last. Priced for all.

Motorola_Moto_G_4G_Black_WhiteFollowing the Moto X into global markets was the Moto G and more recently the Moto E. What every one of these phones has in common is twofold.

First of all they seem quite basic on the surface; the designs are simple and other than the X’s ‘always listening’ voice-recognition, almost nothing in the way of added features or software tweaks for enhanced user experience or whatever else the marketing team want to call it.

Secondly, Motorola pushed the limits of price to breaking point on all 3 phones, whilst including a practically pure Android installation. Each handset is currently unmatched for price and specification, with Android 4.4 KitKat running either as standard or via update.

With Google’s influence there is almost no customisation of Android either, so this range of devices gets updates very quickly and remain an example to the rest of the industry.

In the last 6 months, when asked, I’ve personally advised a number of friends and family to pick up a Moto G almost without pause. I’ve also seen some of my acquaintances extolling the value for money it offers without any of my usual interference. My keen eye for all things phone has also spotted a number ‘in the wild’ when out and about.

Even without the expensive, glossy marketing campaigns of times past, it looks like Motorola are again capturing the imagination of a good number of consumers.

Lettin ‘em go to Lenovo

So what’s next for Motorola? Earlier this year, Google sold the company off to the Chinese manufacturer Lenovo. Well known in the personal computing space, Lenovo will surely be looking to break into Western mobile markets the same way as they have done with notebooks. To do that they will need more than their relatively unknown mobile offerings so far.

Google must have got their worth out of Motorola to deem the sale to Lenovo good business. Maybe Motorola Mobility’s much speculated-upon patent portfolio has been put to enough work. Or perhaps part of Google’s plan was simply to get some high-quality handsets out there, if only to show their sometimes uncomfortable bedfellows such as Samsung how they want things done when it comes to Android.

We will continue to see Google’s influence at Motorola continue this year. The Moto G 4G has already updated one of last year’s runaway successes to applause and there may yet be more to come from this generation and lifecycle before Lenovo’s projects are begun.

Lenovo logoLenovo as a brand are already synonymous with delivering respectable performance at a consumer friendly price. Just browse your local PC World and a number of laptops on the shelf will not only bear their name, but also be walking out the door in the arms of parents and students in droves.

The new Motorola business model established by the Moto G and E in particular are exactly what has made Lenovo successful in notebooks. If they handle Motorola properly, we could well continue to see a range of capable Motorola smartphones breaking the boundaries of expected price.

Considering the industry consensus is Lenovo got Motorola for a very good price, they may also be willing to pump a bit more money into the company to increase advertising budgets or manufacturing numbers.

If this happens then the times when everyone and his mate had a Motorola could very easily be coming back soon enough.

Hello Moto.

Will Chromecast kill off MHL & SlimPort?

Will we still need cables or will Chromecast negate this need?

Google_ChromecastJust over 12 months ago, Google released Chromecast.

What is Chromecast I hear you ask?

Google describe it as “a thumb-sized media streaming device that plugs into the HDMI port on your TV. Set it up with a simple mobile app, then send your favourite online shows, movies, music and more to your TV using your smartphone, tablet or laptop.”

So what it essentially allows you to do is make your HDMI enabled monitor or TV a little smarter.

An app on your smartphone communicates via WiFi with the Chromecast and thanks to apps on the Chromecast you could get added functionality on your big screen.

Google_Chromecast1So for example;  the YouTube video or Netflix rental you used to watch on the smartphone can now be watched on the big screen.  Your smartphone could then be used as aremote control for that content where applicable and you could also do other things on your phone whilst the content was still being streamed on the big screen.  This is particularly helpful if you are watching a movie but not paying too much attention as you complete emails and text message replies on your phone.

How this actually works is the Chromecast acts independently, thanks to the software wizardry.  Essentially when you tell your device to ‘cast’ the content to the Chromecast, it goes off online and pulls the content from the location itself, thus the phone is not needed for the most part and you can then multi-task.

Google_Chromecast_Apps

Over the last 12 months, the number of apps and functionality has increased.

The most recent update is the ability on selected devices to now cast your device screen to the TV.  Where once you could only play select content back, you can now play back anything on your mobile device screen.

Whilst this is limited at the time of writing to select devices, this will grow as updates roll out to other handsets.

What this means now is that all content on your smartphone appears on the TV once you have asked it to be cast.

So, imagine you are sat on the sofa.  You are looking at some photos on your phone.  You go into the Chromecast app on the phone, select to cast your screen and now everything you see on the phone display is mirrored on the TV.  Others in the phone can see those photos.

Google_Chromecast_TV

This is just one such example, but there are many others, including using it for a business presentation, an app demonstration and more.

All sounds great and all this from a little adapter that plugs into the back of your HDMI enabled screen for just £30.

SlimPort_External_Display_E

However many smartphones do also have MHL or SlimPort capabilities built into them and I can not help but think such functionality of the Chromecast will reduce the need or reliance on MHL and SlimPort technology.

what do I need to use MHL

Both have the potential to be more reliable because they require cable connections and can support up to 4K video, whereas Chromecast relies on wireless and outputs currently at a maximum of 1080p.

That said, the cables cost money and the price of the Chromecast is similar.  The setup time of each is similar too.

The downside to Chromecast is that it is currently limited to 1080p, (it is going to be some time before 4K becomes mainstream) and that it uses the 2.4GHz wireless frequency rather than offering an option for 5GHz.

Whilst I am sold into the Google ecosystem, the Chromecast does rely on you having an Android smartphone and wishing to purchase the Chromecast.

SlimPort and MHL whilst primarily seen in Android devices is capable of being integrated into other hardware so it is potentially more versatile.

MHL_Slimport

With many Android devices, as standard home and app tray screen do not orient in landscape which is the natural orientation for a larger display such as a TV.  Apps like Apex launcher and others help, but Google needs to add this functionality to make the screen casting really useful.

Only time will tell whether Chromecast will become the thing to own rather than MHL or SlimPort, but I know from owning and using it personally it is a very powerful product that has a real potential and it is exciting to see how this will develop over time.  I imagine version 2 will be even better.

What do you think about this? Which one is best and will win long term?

Android Wear & LG G Watch – 1 week on

DSC_4472Despite being surrounded by the latest technology, I have up until recently never been interested personally in using and wearing a Smartwatch.

I can clearly see the value that such products bring but none have made me go ‘I want that’.

With the introduction of Android Wear my opinion began to change and like many I suddenly now had the urge for this new breed of wearable technology, after seeing the Motorola Moto 360.

The 360 looks like it can pass as an ordinary wristwatch rather than some Sci-Fi bit of kit (all be it is more than a conventional wristwatch).

[Read more...]

The Moto G and Moto E bring modern technology to the masses. This is why you should buy one. 

Motorola’s battle for the budget conscious.

motorola-banner-clove

Just about 3 and a half years ago I was blown away by a smartphone. It had a 4.3 inch screen at 480 x 800 pixels (217 ppi), an 8 megapixel camera and an impressive 1GHz processor (single-core of course). This phone was the HTC Desire HD, a handset at the peak of the day’s mobile technology. That incredible specification was yours for the comparatively cheap price of £415.

Way back then, when new Android version numbers began with a 2, buying a smartphone on a budget was an absolute minefield. There was nothing better than that previous specification and paying any less than a couple of hundred quid meant you were almost certainly saddled with a phone that had minimal storage and working memory, a tiny low resolution screen and a camera that made everyone look like Mario from the 80’s.

The ever onward march of technology continues though and in accordance with Moore’s law, we now find ourselves with handheld computers capable of demolishing the flagship giants of just a few years past. Today the entry-level Motorola Moto E could go blow for blow with the old king of the castle that once wowed me, and come out on top, for less than £100.

Forget ‘cheap’, budget phones are now ‘economical’

motorola-logoSome people got burned by smartphones a few years ago. Low cost models that looked appealing on cheaper tariffs often failed to perform well. Similar to buying lower grade laptops and desktop computers, the corners cut to save costs often resulted in a lacklustre experience not long after purchase and difficulties in using the phone further down the line.

Quite rightly these bad experiences have made may approach this category with caution.

Rest assured these days are long past and right now has never been a better time to get hold of a cost effective smartphone. With advancements in mobile processors, screen technology and the drop in cost of memory, the cheapest smartphones available today are more than capable of providing a high quality and enriching experience.

The word ‘cheap’ brings with it bad connotations such as poor build quality and underperforming components. A better word is ‘economical’. Motorola’s Moto E & G smartphones have shown that a known brand can bring well designed, feature-filled smartphones, which are built to last, at a price unthinkable not too long ago.

Changing expectations

moto-g-clove-croppedSmartphones don’t have the wow factor of a few years ago. When the market was building, it only took small improvements and relatively minor new features to impress. In today’s world though, even if you don’t own one, pretty much everyone has seen a smartphone and has a decent idea of what they can do.

For those looking at the latest and greatest smartphones, there will always be new features & technology to justify the top flight price tags for the likes of  Samsung, HTC and Sony’s more expensive products.

In contrast though, more and more common consumers are looking to work out the best value for money. If a 20 megapixel camera, suite of office and productivity applications or chassis made from a single piece of machined aluminium don’t interest you, then getting the best basic functionality for the money spent is probably your priority.

A shift in focus

This new type of customer is exactly where Motorola are now aiming at impressing. With the critically acclaimed Moto X now discontinued in the UK, Motorola’s product range has been trimmed (at least for a few months) to just the Moto E and Moto G. The G was a runaway success in the entry-level category last year and the Moto E has brought the best of this concept down to just £99 including VAT.

This is a truly disruptive price that changes the market at this level. For a standard user the Moto E does pretty much everything you could require from a smartphone at a price unthinkable just a few years ago. If you want to join the smartphone club and experience apps, Internet connectivity and social media on the move, the Moto E is the best high-quality device available at a pocket-friendly price.

The new Moto G 4G, available mid June, ups the price a little bit to £159. Included for this raise is support for high speed 4G connectivity for those that can access it, and a micro SD memory card that was missing on the old G. You also get a quad-core processor and more base storage, perfect if you want to try out some new games!

Break the contract and go SIM free

moto-e-clove-croppedMost handsets on the high street have typically been sold with a subsidy; the network provider sells you a service and provides the phone with a big discount. This system is great if you want the latest hardware and can’t afford the £500+ price tag in one go.

More recently though, most mobile operators have begun offering good value for money ‘SIM only’ deals, where you can receive the same service or better at a drastically reduced price. The only difference is you don’t get a phone included.

With the rise of highly capable budget smartphones such as the Moto E & G, SIM only deals are more attractive than ever. Depending on your current contract, you might save yourself upwards of £20 a month switching to SIM only. You also generally get the option of being able to cancel at any time with only a month’s notice.

With a Moto E costing only £100, changing your contract and going SIM free could pay for itself in just a few months. Even new Pay As You Go deals with data included are very cost effective.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact – 3 months later

Z1_Compact_Review_ImageBack in February I reviewed the Xperia Z1 Compact from Sony.

If you want some background then you can read my full written review, or if you prefer you can watch the video at the end of this post.

I waited a long time for a device like the Compact.

I don’t wish to be a spoiler but my conclusion was as follows:

I was never a real fan of the Z1, but admired what Sony had accomplished. I felt compelled to like the Z1 Compact long before even getting my hands on it, because it offered just what Samsung and HTC’s comparable ‘Mini’ devices failed to.

On too many occasions I have spoken to people who have bought the Mini devices thinking they did everything the more publicised S3, S4 and HTC One flagships did, only to find out when it was too late that they were either misinformed or mislead.

With the Z1 Compact the story is very different, even if it commands a slightly higher price.

Some will find fault, but I doubt anyone can show me a device that is perfect for everyone. Personally, I think I may just have to take credit card out and make this my personal device for the next 12 months.

As the conclusion suggested, I did choose to personally swap to the Z1 Compact and have now been using it for a period of 3 months. So I thought I would share my opinions and feelings after this amount of time. Read more after the break.

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The dawn of the smart connected home

archos smart home tabletIf I were to ask you to think about what a home of the future may look like, your vision will no doubt be different to mine or somebody else’s. However, one consistent theme that I imagine would exist is the idea or notion of connectivity and integration.

What I mean by this is that everything in our lives is in sync and we have greater control over what we do and when we do it.

Starting with simple tasks like being able to put the oven on from work so by the time you get home, it’s hot and ready to be used.

There may then be the slightly more adventurous vision that you can remotely open and close doors to let the dog in or out or a maintenance man.

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The Sony Z1 Compact is the device for me

Z1_Compact_Review_ImageOnly a few weeks ago I wrote here about how I thought the Z1 Compact may not be the device for me, despite my desire for it to be.

At the time of writing, I was going off of the spec sheet and the overriding area of concern was the physical size of the phone in comparison to what was then my primary device, the Samsung Galaxy S4.

The Z1 Compact was only factionally smaller, despite having a 0.7” smaller screen, so you may see my reasoning for thinking there would be little point in changing.

Well a few weeks on I can say I must take back what I said. The Z1 Compact is the device for me. I have switched to this as my daily phone.

Am I settled with it completely yet? Honestly speaking, no; but I am close to being.

It is taking a bit of time to adjust from the Samsung UI to the Sony one, but with the help of time and a few apps I am very close.

When the device actually made it to the palm of my hand and I compared it to the S4 the difference was certainly noticeable.

One handed use is now possible. It was on the S4, but it was not easy or comfortable.

It is easy for me to say this, but there is a bit of excess bezel around the device which would be nice to see gone, but no doubt if a Sony engineer read this they would be screaming at me, telling me it is not possible in such a small phone!

Some may argue it is a step back or wonder why, but it is always a personal decision and I am pleased to say my initial hopes and desires have been proven with the Z1 Compact.

The IP rating is of benefit and the phone feels more premium thanks to the aluminium frame.

The battery life is considerably better than that of the S4. This may have something to do with the lower resolution display but I can live with this for the majority of what I do. I won’t lie and say full 1080p would be nice, as the difference is noticeable, but on a scale of things I am willing to give up, the screen sits towards the top of the list.

The covers on the ports can be a fiddle as I have yet to invest in the DK32 charging dock, but when the battery can last a couple of days its a much smaller issue.

So to conclude, I am very happy with the Z1 Compact. It is not often until you get the device and use it do you really appreciate what it has to offer and should often not discount something just because of its specs or physical dimensions.

If you are interested to hear more detailed feedback on the device, then read or watch my full review here. I will too provide more thought and opinion on the device in a few months time, here on the Clove Blog.

I thought the Xperia Z1 Compact was the device for me

Sony Xperia Z1 CompactFor some time now I have been wanting a device that does it all but is smaller than the feature rich handsets that currently exist on the market.

Most of the feature rich handsets that I want have a screen size of 4.7” and above. However I am demanding something smaller, something with a 4.3” to 4.5” display.

The reason being is I just find the bigger handsets a little bit cumbersome to use sometimes. I wrote about my plight back in August last year here.

As I mentioned last year the Sony Xperia Arc was an epic device, I loved it and I think part of me is hanging out to rekindle that love.

When Sony announced the Xperia Z1F for the Japanese market I let out a little yelp of joy and sadness. Joy at the fact that what I thought would be perfect had been announced, but sadness that it was launched only in Japan only.

Motorola Moto G

Then the Motorola Moto G comes along and gets considerably close to what I want but it does not have it all, it does not have the higher end features such as video out and ideally I would like a higher resolution camera.

Slightly depressed I put it to the back of my mind and then Sony announced the Z1F as the Z1 Compact at CES. They caught my attention again!

Twitching with excitement like many smartphone lovers do (sad and geeky I know) I began looking through the tech specs. The smaller battery is a shame but the device is smaller than the Z1. The lower screen resolution is not an issue for me either and it will drain less power so together they are not that much of an issue.

IP rating over and above my Samsung Galaxy S4 is a bonus, but then the high came crashing down. I looked at the dimensions and compared it to the S4.

The S4 measures 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9mm whilst the Z1 Compact 127 x 64.9 x 9.5mm.

Of course the Z1 Compact is smaller but there isn’t that much variance in my opinion considering there is 0.7” difference between the two screen sizes.

Now I have yet to actually hold the Z1 Compact in hand, so it may feel smaller than the S4 when I actually use it, however I am concerned that there will not actually be enough physical size difference between the two to make the Compact the device I desire. I am concerned I will be thinking for the marginal extra size, I might as well continue with a device with a much bigger screen and higher resolution.

The extra size has to be down to Sony’s styling and IP rating, so maybe in 12 months time there will be a different device that suits me perfectly, or maybe when I get my hands on it in very soon I will change my mind.

This is most definitely a first world problem but I am sure I am not alone when I say that it would be great to find the perfect device for me.

If you find yourself in similar situations, let me know.

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